Friday, May 25, 2012

Step (Back)-in-Time

Writing about Bedknobs and Broomsticks this week and comparing it to Mary Poppins reminded me of how long it had been since I had last seen it (at least 5 years).  I decided this was a crime somewhere and so I popped it in on Tuesday night...wow, what a difference several years of removal can make.  Some films do not age well over time and when you watch them older and wiser than you were before they are like eating a piece of day-old pizza.  Some of what you loved about it is still there, but mostly the excitement has faded and what you're left with is a bland and largely flavorless reminder that sometimes the moment makes the memory rather than the quality.  Some films, however, stand up to age and scrutiny and manage to constantly offer new nibbles of enlightenment for you to nibble on as you grow and change.  Mary Poppins is one of those films and it is with deep pleasure that I present it to you today.

Stormy weather is brewing at Number 17, Cherry Tree Lane.  While the children, Jane and Michael, are running about driving their nanny, Katie Nanna, crazy, the staff are grumpy, Mrs. Winifred Banks (the mother) is off running around with suffragette groups, and Mr. George Banks (the father) is busy trying to advance in his work at the bank.  The household is stretched tremendously thin and everyone is less than happy.  To make matters worse, Katie Nanna has resigned and now the Banks' are nanny-less.  George decides to take matters into his own hands and writes an advertisement for a slave-driver of a nanny, someone who will be a drill-Sergent to his (in his mind) poorly raised children.  Jane and Michael attempt to help by writing what they would like to see in a nanny (someone kind but firm, fun, and educational) but George tears it up and throws it into the fire.  Unbeknownst to him or anyone else in the house, those pieces of paper float up the chimney and out into the heavens and call forth (following a terrific wind that kicks a whole line of nasty nannies into the street) Mary Poppins, a practically perfect nanny in nearly every way.  Mary Poppins enters the house like a whirlwind and all of a sudden things are changing.  The children magically clean up their room, go on an outing in the park where they enter a chalk pavement-picture, and learn the meaning of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious...all of which drives the serious and uptight Mr. Banks into an absolute frenzy.  All is not fun and games however and Mary seems interested in more than simply improving the children's mood...and as the winds begin to change around Number 17, Cherry Tree Lane, we are left to wonder if Mr. Banks will make the change as well.

Mary Poppins is an expertly crafted piece derived from the lengthy "Mary Poppins" book series by P.L. Travers.  It takes the best and most recognized magical bits from those books and strings them onto a simple yet intricate plot involving teaching a father to notice and love his own family for who they are and not who he would like them to be.  Many people still will tell you that Poppins is a children's movie, when very clearly the story is about adults who have lost their way.  Mr. and Mrs. Banks are not bad parents by any stretch of the imagination and they are operating upon societal norms at the time for raising children (leaving their care to a nanny while they conduct matters of business or running the house)...but they have become so immersed in their own wants and desires and so used to having a nanny that they have forgotten that they have a stake in the lives of these children too.  Mary Poppins does educate the children to make them respect their boundaries and how to have fun without causing a headache for the adults who care for them, but she also teaches Mr. and Mrs. Banks (George more so than Winifred) that they have to open their eyes and look around them once in awhile, to look past the ends of their noses (to paraphrase the wise Poppins).  I think it is this aspect that keeps the film from growing stale and old-fashioned...this continuing need to look around and take stock in our own lives so that we don't grow complacent nor will we inadvertently neglect those around us that we care about.  The wonderful performances and excellent music help to completely sell the story and to allow it to become somewhat epic (at 2 hours and 19 minutes) without feeling bloated or overlong.  Indeed, Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke are the best non-romantic duo ever put on film.  We feel like they could end up together because their chemistry is so amazing, and yet they keep things refreshingly platonic.  David Tomlinson is my favorite, however, not because he has to do anything as spectacular as Julie (who is indeed the glue that holds it all together) but because he takes a character like George Banks (who could have come off as completely unlikable and thus making his change at the end seem hackneyed) and makes him realistic, sympathetic, and, in the end, someone we can root for.  Overall, it is a great movie and classic for a reason.  It certainly always manages to elevate my mood, rather like lifting a kite into the air.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Age of Not Believing

So yeah....I have no good excuse as to why I haven't posted in a while aside from the fact that I recently began re-reading Stephen King's Needful Things and I have been enjoying that during my Study Hall periods.  In fact, it had become so much a part of my daily routine during the shows (when I elected to completely stop writing in my blog) that I never stopped and thus forgot to keep posting after that first one.  But worry not friends, I have returned with a bit of the past to share with you.  This past weekend I went camping with a much-too-short-lived new friend and while we were canoeing he kept yelling song requests at me (because I have such a melodious voice, don'cha know) and when he had me sing "Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins I remembered a little known fact about the film I'm going to examine today.  It seems that there was a section in Poppins which focused on a magic compass and in one of the scenes they all went to the bottom of The Beautiful Briney Sea (and sang that like-titled song) where they had a marvelous adventure.  It didn't work in the final story however, and was cut.  The Sherman Brothers remembered the song all those years later, however, when reviving a film project that had gotten shuffled aside in order to make Poppins and decided it was a perfect fit for a scene in that film which did figure very much into the story and would not be cut.  I was so wrapped up in the story that I told my new semi-ex friend that I sang the tune to him which brought back a wash of memories of my youth with this gem of a family film from the Mouse House.  I decided when I arrived back home on Sunday night that I simply had to watch it...and truthfully I love it more now than I did as a kid.  So without further ado I bring to you Disney's second family fantasy epic, based on Mary Norton's books...Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

It is the time of World War II in England and everyone is on edge, wondering if the Nazis will be invading their corner of the world next.  In the sleepy village of Pepperinge Eye, life has gotten a bit more exciting as the War Office has sent many of London's children into the country for safety and the unofficial town leaded, Mrs. Hobday, has been buisily placing them with families (some already quite stretched).  The last three, Carrie, Charles, and Paul Rawlings, are to be placed in the care of Miss Eglantine Price...an arrangement that none of them is exceptionally happy about.  Miss Price insists that she and children do not get along and that the work she is doing is much too time consuming to allow her to take care of children and the children insist that, being orphans, they know enough about the world to take care of themselves.  Mrs. Hobday is firm however, that they must be given shelter and Miss Price has a huge house all to herself so therefore they must all learn to live with it.  The children make plans to run back to London and Miss Price continues on with her private business...which just so happens to be learning how to be a real-life witch.  On the night that the children decide to head back to London, they catch Miss Price learning to ride her first broom.  Deciding that they can use this to their advantage, they decide to blackmail Miss Price (Charlie being the lead of that scheme).  First Miss Price is afraid and worries that they may expose her and so she pleads that her work is being done solely to help the war effort (she plans to use magic against the Nazis if they invade).  When those pleas fall on Charlie's deaf ears, she turns him into a rabbit to show that she will not be bossed around.  Paul and Carrie, already taking a liking to Miss Price, back down and Charlie suggests a pact.  Miss Price agrees and offers them a magic bedknob, which can take their bed anywhere they wish if they just speak the correct words, in exchange for their silence.  Soon they are off on one adventure after another as Miss Price, the children, and Professor Emelius Browne, head of the Correspondence Collage of Witchcraft, head off to find the last spell she needs to become an adversary fit for the German invaders.

Wow...that was quite a summary, but quite necessary.  I feel that with this film, a short summary undermines it and reduces the setup far too much...and setup is everything with this story.  Once all the players and the basic story is in place, the film mostly plays from the Mary Poppins playbook in terms of going from one magical set piece to another.  It should come as no surprise to anyone watching the film, that this was made by almost the exact same creative team as Poppins.  It was directed by Robert Stevenson (director of the former), the music was completed by Richard and Robert Sherman (composers of the former), and Professor Browne was played by David Tomlinson (who played Mr. Banks in the former).  Knowing this, many critics are of the opinion that Bedknobs is simply a Mary Poppins clone...an attempt to capture lightning in a bottle.  Of course that is impossible, which is why despite the fact that the films are very similar (due in part to their source material being similar) they strike much different paths tonally.  Poppins was about the innocence of youth and belief that things will get better (and indeed they do) while Bedknobs is about regaining that sense of belief of childhood and discovering faith that everything will turn out alright.  Bedknobs is definitely made for the audience who was ten years older since Poppins which is perhaps why folks found it to be too dark and un-whimsical compared to the former.  Granted, moments in the film do drag on a bit (the Portobello Road and Isle of Naboombu sequences comes to mind) and these are the places where the filmmakers did try to completely copy the magic of Poppins unsuccessfully.  It's when they let the film grow as it's own, dark and depressing as it is, that it shines and manages to set itself above the other family claptrap of the time.  It is a long film at two hours and ninteen minutes and it feels like a long journey once you are finished (more so than the identically long and more quickly paced Poppins), but perhaps that is more in keeping with the dark and weary tone that the film sets forth.  I can't believe now, after three paragraphs chock-full of information, that I haven't yet praised Angela Lansbury in her portrayal as the restrained yet loveable Miss Price.  She was the perfect choice for this film, especially to keep it a separate animal from Poppins, with her fuddy-duddy mannerisms and the amusing way that the outrageousness of the situations they find themselves in chip away at her unflappable British nature.  All-in-all, this is truely classic film that is worth seeing once, if not several times.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Just When You Thought He'd Never Come Back...

Yep, I purposefully have not written in several weeks because I simply have not had the head space for it what with the pressures of the musical, getting the end of the year things done in class, and various other small pressures.  I figured it would be easier and less stressful on me if I just ignored it and came back to it once the show was over...and here I am, right on schedule.  It was a very good show, for any of you who are interested, and was enjoyed by all (even though our crowds were smaller this year).  Now I'm in this weird mood that is probably something along the lines of 'completion depression'.  I literally have nothing but work to focus on until June 1st when school ends for the summer and that is taking a negative toll on me it seems...making me feel empty I suppose.  It doesn't help either that I was not selected as part of the cast for this year's Chillicothe Civic Theater production, though it doesn't surprise me either...since I have two full weeks of conflicts and the weekend before the show is my high school reunion.  As a director, I probably wouldn't have cast me either...but it does make you feel a little unwanted.  On the plus side, that means I can go to more of the summer movies at the Ohio theater.  I'm just really scared of getting bored I guess.

Today I've been rounding up scripts so I can send back all of our rental materials.  I'm also planning to take a personal day on Weds. to cart all the sets and costumes we borrowed back to where they came from...and then I plan to do some broadcasting training.  It should be a pretty good day, and ideally it will finish off the remains of my musical responsibilities.  Then it's just a matter of getting the last grades done, and the semester exams written.  It should be a fairly easy next few weeks, and I hope it passes quickly.  I need some time off because I am feeling so burnt out (I'm grading research papers now and they are annoying me more than usual).  I don't want to paint an inaccurate picture either...I am pleased with how the show turned out and I really did have a fantastic weekend (the shows were great, there was very little crowd drama, and I even had a date after it was all over that went amazingly too) plus there is a lot to look forward to (Disney on June 3rd, the cruise on June 15th, summer movies, cookouts, sleep, etc), I'm just fighting the post-show blues I think.  I'm sure my mood will improve as the week reaches it's end (when I travel down to visit Dad and the special someone that I spent my Sunday with) and as I check more and more stuff off my lists.  It's going to be a really good summer...once I figure out what I want to do with my glut of free time.